“Jonathan Leshnoff’s Symphony No. 2, ‘Innerspace’—an engaging, accessible force of new music from a composer with an approachable modern voice—is all about the ending.
“A silent fifth movement, with a tempo marking of ‘Unimaginable’, is a brash choice after four movements of emotional, intense music, but that nothingness is as loud and affecting as any bombastic, triumphant coda.
“The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performed the world premiere of Jonathan Leshnoff’s Symphony No. 2.
On Thursday night at Symphony Hall, Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra caught a star on the rise, presenting the world premiere of the 42-year-old Leshnoff’s symphony, an ASO commission, alongside Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. Spano and the ASO will also perform the world premiere of Leshnoff’s ‘Zohar’ oratorio, a joint commission with Carnegie Hall, on April 14 in Atlanta (then again on April 16). The program will then travel to Carnegie Hall in New York for an April 30 performance.
“In Leshnoff’s own words, the symphony was born from the exploration of his Jewish heritage and unpacks the main themes from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s book on Jewish religion, ‘Innerspace.’ In the book, Kaplan explains the five levels, or universes, of occlusion from God, which are reflected in the five movements of Leshnoff’s symphony. The first movement, which begins with an anguished cry from the horn section followed by lush, other-worldly strings, represents the first universe, where humanity resides. The fifth level, silence, is the universe that is closest to God.
“... Spano bled an enormous amount of passion from the piece, emphasizing the juxtapositions in tempo and feel deep within each movement.
“Symphony No. 2 will surely become a lasting, heralded work.”
—Jon Ross, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 6, 2015
“But within the confines of that aesthetic, and like with his earlier Violin Concerto, the most elusive attribute for Leshnoff as a composer remains a uniquely identifiable voice. One hears a flood of historical influences as well as similar peer voices within this Flute Concerto though one need not parse out what’s identifiably only Leshnoff, unvarnished, to enjoy this credible work.”
—Mark Gresham, Arts Atlanta, March 7, 2014
“In this introspective Adagio the guitar's gently questioning melodic lines emerge against alternately shimmering and aching chords. It's an exquisite reverie, and it inspired beautiful playing on Thursday from both soloist Manuel Barrueco—the concerto's dedicatee—and the ensemble. The outer movements deliver rewards as well. The opening one grabs attention with its initial, arcing phrase, which gets a vigorous, colorful workout from guitar and ensemble alike... the concerto makes a worthy, welcome entry into the repertoire. It reconfirms that Leshnoff... with a presence far beyond Baltimore, is an assured composer who has a lot to say and a directly communicative way of saying it.”
—Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun, January 10, 2014
“A vast, thoroughly beautiful and extraordinarily moving work, its juggernaut-like power balanced with a luminous, almost hymn-like sense of spirituality and grace. It is a masterpiece...”
—Stephen Brookes, Washington Post, June 25, 2013
“But for sheer sonic beauty, the high point was Jonathan Leshnoff’s Flute Concerto. Written just a few years ago, it’s a shimmering and absolutely beautiful work, awash in the iridescent colors... Leshnoff is clearly one of the more gifted young American composers around; kudos to the Fairfax players for showcasing his music.”
—Stephen Brookes, Washington Post, January 21, 2013
“This is the third disc Naxos has devoted to Jonathan Leshnoff in its indispensable American Classics series. It’s easy to see why the label places so much faith in the composer, born in 1973. The four works in this installment all reveal a great ear for fresh sonorities... the 2008 String Quartet #2 nicknamed the Edelman... with its suggestions of Hebrew chant, offers a solid response to the great heritage of the string quartet form.”
—Lawson Taitte, Dallas Morning News, June 30, 2012
“Leshnoff's command of instrumental color is so firm, and his tart, insinuating harmonies so arresting... strong-limbed and imaginative.”
—Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle, July 12, 2012
“Leshnoff is a prolific composer whose music is being performed widely. He thinks big, and with its twin virtues of accessibility and architectural coherence, you come away from the concerto feeling that you’ve heard something pleasantly significant.”
—Joan Reinthaler, Washington Post, November 22, 2011
“Respecting the nature of the instrument, flute concertos tend to steer away from things heroic and imposing—one reason Leshnoff’s manner here was less rugged than in his engaging Violin Concerto. Though in the neo-tonalist camp, Leshnoff’s concerto never feels like a re-run, or in the least bit inauthentic. He comes to his language with an underlying toughness not always heard in his like-minded contemporaries.
“Ravel looms in the background of his more sensual moments; Stravinsky is echoed in the animated final movement. Yet familiarity isn’t why this music has much to offer on first hearing. The piece has great clarity of intent, even in more complicated fast movements, which the composer tends to anchor around pithy motifs whose transformation shows off his sense of invention. Next to the Ibert and Mozart concertos Khaner also plays, this new work is quite a welcome alternative—and makes one look forward to the oratorio Leshnoff has written for next month’s festival.”
—David Patrick Stearns , Philadelphia Inquirer, March 5, 2011
“Vibrant orchestral colors and shimmering textures characterized the music. Conductor Michael Stern achieved a marvelous orchestral balance with melodic fragments moving among the strings, winds, brass and percussion. A restrained central section preceded an explosive ending. ‘Starburst’ proved to be a perfect work to open the season.”
—Timothy McDonald, Kansas City Star, October 9, 2010
“It’s [Starburst] a curtain-raiser in the best sense of the word, full of energy and anticipation. The composer’s most distinctive talent may be for creating deeply lyrical themes, but here, his focus is on propulsion and creating a sense of almost frantic searching... Even a momentary repose partway through can’t stop the sense of urgency... It’s a colorfully orchestrated work, and Alsop had the ensemble articulating deftly.”
—Tim Smith, Baltimore Sun, April 30, 2010
“The Violin Concerto could well be a significant addition to the instrument’s repertoire...
“Labels like to push their hot new composers, and after a while, one gets skeptical over this or that so-called discovery. Leshnoff, however, is excitingly ‘the real thing’, and I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more from and about him in years to come.”
—Raymond Tuttle, Fanfare Magazine, July, 2009
“The music of Jonathan Leshnoff (b. 1973) falls squarely in the middle of contemporary American romanticism. Its melodic lines are quite distinct, its harmonics balanced, its depth given by the composer’s mastery of both counterpoint and colorful orchestration. Though richly tonal, this is music quite distinct from anything else that’s out there at the moment.”
—Strings Magazine, June, 2009
“…Considering the growing number of prestigious commissions for and performances of his music, the BCO (Baltimore Chamber Orchestra) was lucky to get him…the selections on this disc…have an emotional depth and sincerity that give them immediate listener appeal.”
—Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found, May 11, 2009
“Jonathan Leshnoff’s Violin Concerto struck me as a major addition to the repertoire when I first heard it in 2006. I’m even more convinced of that quality, having revisited the work on an all-Leshnoff CD from the Naxos label... The concerto is richly layered and almost painfully beautiful; the violin’s soaring, searing lyricism in the second movement and haunted introspection in the finale are but two examples.”
—Tim Smith, Baltimore Sun, April 2, 2009
“I was impressed by Leshnoff’s vivid imagination and sophisticated ear for sonorities and the soaring lyricism and passion of his music. These works have immediate appeal, but the attraction strengthens with further acquaintance because the music has an underlying introspective character of real depth... I remember David Diamond, another great American composer whom Leshnoff calls to mind, saying that, “you must develop the long line in your music, try to write very long melodies... There must be radiant melody and urgency of rhythmic impulse.” Here is where Leshnoff excels. It’s hard to think of a recent work that can compare to the length of his melodic lines in this concerto, or to their radiant beauty.”
—Robert O’Reilly, InsideCatholic.com, March 31, 2009
“Saturday night’s IRIS Orchestra concert was a rich mix, weighted toward the traditional but with the brightest spot a premiere performance of Jonathan Leshnoff’s ‘Rush’. ... As the name implies, bursts with adrenaline and emotion. Its beauty comes from all directions and not all of it frenetic. There are deliciously quiet moments that add to the richness and provide contrast to the overall energy. The composer continues his string of smart, lyrical pieces that never fail to engage.”
—Jon W. Sparks, Memphis Commercial Appeal, February 2, 2009
“The orchestra…continued with Jonathan Leshnoff’s handsomely wrought, lyrical Trombone Concerto. Christopher Dudley, the soloist, playing glowing melodic lines over autumnal string harmonies... An animated central section featured a leaping solo part and playful interplay among the string sections…the afternoon’s keenest discovery was Mr. Leshnoff.”
—Steve Smith, New York Times, November 4, 2008
“This luscious concerto ended far too soon, with its haunting four-note theme still expanding within my brain... Leshnoff’s concerto was complexly layered, though never dull. The interplay between brass and strings was colorful, even as the two soloists kept attention focused on their technical wizardry.
“In the power of the conclusion, that memorable four-note theme emerged victorious, assuring us that at least some new symphonic music will have a confident future.”
—Samuel Black, Duluth News Tribune, May 5, 2008
“Saturday night, however, a new concerto from the exceptional composer Jonathan Leshnoff found a deservedly warm welcome at the Germantown Performing Arts Centre... His ‘Double Concerto for Violin, Viola and Orchestra’, composed last year, is an elegant creation, beautifully rendered by the orchestra and the two outstanding soloists... Leshnoff’s full embrace of harmony grants accessibility without sacrificing depth or musicality. It is complex but not complicated, exploring a range of emotions... IRIS is one of five organizations that commissioned the work and the orchestra plans more performances from this terrific composer.”
—Jon W. Sparks, The Commercial Appeal, March 31, 2008
“A new concerto from the exceptional composer Jonathan Leshnoff found a deservedly warm reception... His Double Concerto is an elegant creation... It is complex, but not complicated, exploring a range of emotions.”
—Jon W. Sparks, The Commercial Appeal, March 31, 2008
“However the most memorable and significant piece on this disc is, for this listener, ‘Cosmic Echoes’ by the young American composer, Jonathan Leshnoff. This is one of the most imaginative and compelling works for trumpet and organ that I have ever heard, and ought to be widely known by trumpeters everywhere. There is a haunting quality about it that will ever remain with me.”
—Arthur Butterworth, MusicWeb International (UK), August 2006
“A diaphanous orchestral fabric of beautiful transparency... Lush, evocative slow passages alternated with driving rhythms... The structure was clear and the themes showed an avoidance of cliché.”
—Paul Horsley, The Kansas City Star, May 22, 2006
“The rich repertoire for violin and orchestra got richer with a work by Leshnoff. His Violin Concerto... is remarkably assured, cohesively constructed and radiantly lyrical... The concerto has imagination, integrity and heart. You can't ask much more of any composition.”
—Tim Smith, Baltimore Sun, February 11, 2006
“Jonathan Leshnoff’s music can be boldly dissonant or hauntingly lyrical, wildly animated or intriguingly contemplative. His new Violin Concerto is all of those things.”
—Tim Smith, Baltimore Sun, January 1, 2006
“The new concerto strikes one as thoughtful and intricate yet economical. Having heard much of it in rehearsal Thursday, I can say the piece grows on you and its themes quickly become familiar and welcome by the ear. I’d like to hear it again.”
—Barbara Zuck, The Columbus Dispatch, November 19, 2005
“... A fluid, thoughtful work, superbly textured and unafraid to be intellectual.”
—Jon Sparks, Commercial Appeal, December 6, 2004
“[Leshnoff’s] ‘Nightcries’ for violin, saxophone and piano is an engrossing piece that extracts myriad colors from all three instruments...”
—Tim Smith, Baltimore Sun, April 2, 2004
“Jonathan Leshnoff... has been steadily building a successful career as a composer. The premiere of his ‘Concerto for Five Percussionists and Band’ will give that career an extra boost. The new score was played with extraordinary care and control by the United States Marine Band and five of its top-flight percussionists, all under Colonel Timothy W. Foley’s assured conducting...
“In five movements that alternate between uneasy calm and urban-pulse edginess, the half-hour concerto is deftly written and exerts a strong pull. The harmonic language is freely dissonant, yet non-confrontational; even fragments of melody, often no more than a mere flutter or sigh, communicate strongly.
“The percussion battery, which makes waves at the softest and loudest volumes, may be center-stage, but it doesn’t hog the unfolding drama. The array of drums, gongs, bells and cymbals is imaginatively integrated into the total sonic picture, while the wind instruments of the band — augmented by piano, harp and double bass — are likewise employed with considerable imagination and sensitivity to tone coloring. The ear is never bored.
“... The concerto represent a masterful grasp of form and function... The music moves surely, seamlessly through its contrasting moods. Recurring ideas, especially gentle staccato notes from the piano and harp that fall like ominous water droplets, help unify the score. It’s easy to hear underneath the music a sense of longing for something safe and serene — something that, in the slow fade at the end, remains tantalizingly out of reach.”
—Tim Smith, Baltimore Sun, February 17, 2004
“Jonathan Leshnoff’s contrastingly gentle ‘Wadi Valley Echoes’ was inspired by a visit to Israel and the decision to listen intently to the sounds of the desert, including bird calls echoing from rock walls, as well as falling pebbles and the water in a spring. Incorporating bowed cymbals, vibraphones, tom-toms and the inner workings of a piano into his scoring, Leshnoff used repeating melodic cells and sudden interruptions to convey the mysterious, constantly changing and sometimes unsettling aura of the experience.”
—Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, January 17, 2004
“A curiously attractive work... it managed to generate sounds both unfamiliar and inviting, with vivid orchestration and contrasting patterns of tension and relaxation.”
—Joseph McLellan, Washington Post, January 28, 2002